I Tried 5 "Pub Sub" Sandwiches at Publix & This Is the Best One
Florida-based Publix has a loyal legion of fans that patronize more than 1,300 locations around the Southeast. There are multiple reasons for this devotion, including Publix's objectively excellent fried chicken, a welcome addition to any picnic. Other patrons swear that a Publix sheet cake is as good as any bakery's offering. The store's excellent customer service also makes it easy to love, but the one convenience that brings people back on a daily basis is the deli sandwich program.
Affectionately known as "Pub Subs," the sandwiches at Publix are made to order by deli employees using premium ingredients like Boar's Head cold cuts. Easily customizable either online or in person, patrons can pick from several varieties of house-baked breads, toppings culled from the store's fresh produce section, and a selection of condiments.
You can even prepay online and pick up your Pub Sub, and then just walk right out the door. (Pre-paid sandwiches are marked with a large green sticker to keep you on the good side of loss prevention undercover agents.) It's quite common to see at least one person sitting in a car outside the store, noshing on a just-purchased Pub sub to maximize the efficiency of lunch hour.
Pub Subs aren't as cheap as a certain subterranean-themed sandwich chain's former promise of a "$5 footlong," but honestly, should you be able to buy a foot of food that cheaply, anyway? Pub Subs start in the $6.59 range for half sandwiches depending on toppings and special requests like double meat or add-ons like bacon, hummus, guac, or avocado. You can upsize to a full sub for just $3.00 in most cases, and almost all Pub Subs stand up to an overnight stay in the fridge, so that's a bargain if you want to save the other half for tomorrow. (Just don't wait too long!)
With all these options, which Pub Sub reigns supreme? To answer this question, I tasted my way through five of the most popular sandwiches from the Publix deli. The company helpfully ranks them by popularity on its website to help you make up your mind, but I went rogue to try one option not in the top 5 because I'd heard raves about it. Call me Captain Nemo, because I went on a sub odyssey.
Here's what I discovered along the way:
Boar's Head Turkey Sub
First of all, I should probably apologize to this sub for giving it the short shrift. In my initial efforts to maintain objectivity and respect the scientific method, I decided to order my subs online exactly as the algorithm suggested without customization. That was a bad idea. Turkey just doesn't have that much flavor, which is why many of us spend Thanksgiving roasting it, smoking it, deep-frying it, basting it in butter, stuffing it with fruits and roots, and serving it with canned cranberry sauce. Offered on white bread with provolone (a pretty bland cheese) and mayonnaise, this effort was cursed from the beginning.
Shredded lettuce and a pale, mealy spring tomato added little except to remind me of how good tomatoes will be later in the heat of the summer. I despondently wrote in my notes, "This sandwich reminds me of that month after I caught COVID"—when absolutely nothing tasted like anything.
I abandoned my scientific rigor and gave this one a second chance by ordering it on wheat bread with Swiss cheese and a spicy Boar's Head Chipotle "gourmaise," and it was a much better sandwich. Still fifth out of five, though.
Boar's Head Ultimate Sub
When you call anything "the ultimate," it sets high expectations. I think I'd call this one "the archetype," because it features three of Boar's Head's most popular cold cuts: Tavern Ham, Ovengold Turkey Breast, and Top Round Roast Beef. I would welcome any of those individually on a sandwich, but it's not a combination that I would have thought to put together because I usually like different condiments with each of those meats: mustard for ham, mayo for turkey, and steak sauce for roast beef.
Luckily, the Publix deli also offers a "sub sauce," which worked well as a substitute for all three. It's a sort of creamy dijonnaise with a hint of black pepper, paprika, onion, and garlic powder. The fancy aioli not only complemented each of the featured meats, it also played nicely with the slight sweetness of the fresh whole wheat bun.
With its generously layered meats and tangy, unifying sauce, this is a solid sub and clear upgrade over the simple turkey option but it is, frankly, not the "ultimate" sandwich on the Publix deli menu.
Boar's Head Italian Sub
Now things get more interesting! Publix's version of an Italian sub features more of that Tavern Ham, but with the spicier addition of Genoa Salami and what the deli calls "Hot Cappy Ham." You might call it capicola or capocollo. Publix's website inexplicably misspells it as "cappacolla." No matter how you spell it, the spicy ham was a welcome addition to the sub, along with the banana peppers I added online. I went with the deli's "sub dressing" on this one, a vinaigrette that contributed a zing of acid to the peppers and mild provolone and almost made the tomatoes taste like something. The crunchy five-grain bread helped to soak up the dressing, which kept this sandwich from devolving into an oily mess. I still probably wouldn't try eating one in the front seat of the car, though.
Havana Bold Sub
Here's where I veered from the "most popular" ranking on the advice of a friend. This Cuban-adjacent sandwich comes topped with Tavern Ham and Spicy Peppenero Ham, instead of the roast pork and sweet ham on Publix's version of the classic Cuban. I appreciated the extra heat. Boar's Head's proprietary Peppenero benefits from a coating of habanero chili peppers, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and green onion that adds a nice punch. Even the cheese packed heat: a chipotle gouda that contributed to the lingering burn.
Thin-sliced dill pickles provided another Cuban touch that I took to the next level with my optional choices of spicy mustard and requesting that the deli press my white bread, meat, cheese, and pickle concoction before pick-up. Could it have benefitted from an extra vegetable or two? Probably, but this crunchy meat missile was delightful just as it came. If I'd thought to sub out the dill pickles with garlic pickles, the Havana Bold might have reached the top of the list. Instead, that honor goes to a different sandwich.
Chicken Tender Sub
Remember that great Publix fried chicken I mentioned earlier? It's also the base of the deli's the most excellent sub sandwich, featuring crispy chicken tenders on a crunchy, chewy baguette. The tenders showcased the proper amount of salt in the crust, and you know it's from a real chicken because I found a little bit of breast cartilage in one of my tenders. That didn't slow me down one bit as I devoured the sub and thought about why it's so popular.
The Publix sandwich makers obviously put some care into its creation, even hollowing out a bit of the bread to make room for toppings, allowing the chicken to be the star of the show without drying out the veggies.
The Chicken Tender Sub also highlights the benefits of Publix's customization options, as a few changes make for a completely different experience. Go traditional with honey mustard or ranch dressing, spice things up with a Buffalo sauce, or get glam with a Pepperhouse Gourmaise that lets the flavor of the fry come through.
No matter how you choose to dress it, anything featuring Publix's fried chicken is bound to be a crowd favorite—and it truly makes this sub the most sublime of all.